The Scoop on Saturday's bowl games
The second-busiest day of the bowl season kicks off with five, count them - five!, bowl games wrap up the week as bowl season will take a one-day break before gearing up for New Year's Day. With no time to waste, let's get right to it.
Armed Forces Bowl - Rice vs. Air Force (11:45 a.m. ET, ESPN): Outside of Notre Dame and Alabama, no program in America is happier to be where they are than David Bailiff's Rice Owls. Rice climbed out of a 2-6 hole to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008, meaning the first bowl trip for Bailiff and the vast majority of the Rice players. In fact, see for yourself what the Owls' locker room was like after sealing up their sixth win. Across the field is an Air Force team looking to what must feel like a steady slide down one of the mountains outside Colorado Springs. In six seasons under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons went 9-4 in 2007, posted back-to-back 8-5 years before going 9-4 again in 2010, but the Falcons went 7-6 last year and enter the Armed Forces Bowl needing a win to avoid a 6-7 finish. Air Force still does one thing exceptionally well, as the Falcons have run the ball for nearly 330 yards per game this season. That attack will match up with a Rice defense that allows more than five yards per carry.
Pinstripe Bowl - West Virginia vs. Syracuse (3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): These two former Big East foes square off for the 60th time as Geno Smith and Ryan Nassib will try to match each other throw for throw at Yankee Stadium. Smith ranks seven spots ahead of Nassib in FBS's total offense rankings; Smith produces 346.6 yards per game to Nassib's 312.3. Smith possesses better weapons in the elusive Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but Nassib is aided by a stiffer defense. Syracuse has won the last two installments of this series, holding Smith to an ugly 44-of-78 for 513 yards (6.58 ypa) with three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Fight Hunger Bowl - Navy vs. Arizona State (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, Arizona State second only to Stanford nationally in tackles for loss and sacks. The Sun Devils may not have many sack opportunities, but Sutton and co. will get plenty of chances to wreak havoc on Midshipmen ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. However, too many chances will prove to be a problem, as Arizona State ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in rush defense. That could prove to be an issue against a Navy team that has gone 6-1 since freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds took command of the offense. Reynolds is one of three Midshipmen to average more than 50 rushing yards and, most importantly, has taken care of the ball in the rare occasion Navy chooses to move through the air, throwing one interception in 97 attempts.
Alamo Bowl - Texas vs. Oregon State (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN): Both squads head into this game with a boost of energy on the offensive side of the ball. For Oregon State, it comes in the form of junior quarterback Cody Vaz. Making his sixth start of the season, Vaz has thrown for 1,286 yards with 11 touchdowns and only one interception. He bursted on to the scene in Oregon State's 42-24 win over BYU on Oct. 13, his first action since high school, by connecting on 20-of-32 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Texas plays its first game under offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, the former Longhorn quarterback now tasked with leading the Texas offense via a headset instead of a helmet. Mack Brown's defense has had well-publicized struggles this season but if nothing else figures to benefit from facing on offense that doesn't ask as much from a defense as a typical Big 12 attack.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - TCU vs. Michigan State (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): If any bowl outside of the national championship is destined to end with a 15-13 final score, it may be this one. Michigan State played its typically strong defense under Pat Narduzzi, ranking in the top 10 nationally in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense, but was cursed by an offense that managed only 20.25 points per game (the fewest among the 70 bowl teams) and an inability to win tight games. Mark Dantonio's team played eight games decided by four points or less and won only three of them. Running back Le'Veon Bell, who ran for the third-most yards in college football this year and plays like a boulder rolling down a mountain, creates an interesting matchup for TCU's defense. The Horned Frogs may have led the Big 12 in rushing defense, but there are no Le'Veon Bells in the Big 12. Gary Patterson's team played with a three-touchdown chasm between its winning and losing efforts, allowing just over 14 points per game in its seven wins and 35 points per game in its five defeats. This game figures to play closer to the former number against a Michigan State offense that topped 26 points just two times this fall.